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Military Affairs

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Defense Analyst: “We’re in a technological race with ourselves”

Reading through a NY Times story about defense cuts led me to one of the most, oh I don’t know, stupid statements it has been my misfortune to read in a while (one of the joys of being a blogger is I don’t have to dress up my comments – stupid is stupid).

And apparently it passes for penetrating analysis.  The thrust of the story, or at least the claim made in the story, is that the Pentagon has made no plans for the sequestration cuts mandated by the failure of the Supercommittee.

To be clear, DoD is working on the first $450 billion in cuts mandated by the Obama Administration.  Those will already cut deeply into its capabilities over the next few decades. 

This new round of cuts will go beyond “fat” and cut into muscle and bone.  An idea of where cuts will have to be made is provided by some defense analysts:

They laid out the possibility of cutbacks to most weapons programs, a further reduction in the size of the Army, large layoffs among the Defense Department’s 700,000 civilian employees and reduced military training time — such as on aircraft like the F-22 advanced jet fighter, which flies at Mach 2 and costs $18,000 an hour to operate, mostly because of the price of fuel.

Other possibilities include cutting the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11 — the United States still has more than any other country — as well as increased fees for the military’s generous health care system, changes in military retirement, base closings around the country and delayed maintenance on ships and buildings.

And that brings us to a statement I find difficulty characterizing as anything but stupid.  Perhaps to be less provocative, I ought to characterize it as woefully uninformed.  I’ll emphasize it for you:

Right now, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program in history, is the top target for cuts. (The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $400 billion buying 2,500 of the stealth jets through 2035.) Other potential targets include the Army’s planned ground combat vehicle and a “next-generation” long-range bomber under development by the Air Force.

As a result, the military industry is already in full alarm. “The Pentagon has been cutting weapons programs by hundreds of billions of dollars for three years now,” said Loren B. Thompson, a consultant to military contractors. “There’s not much left to kill that won’t affect the military’s safety or success.”

Other analysts argued that the United States had such overwhelming military superiority globally that it could easily withstand the cuts, even to the point of eliminating the Joint Strike Fighter. “We have airplanes coming out of our ears,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House. “We’re in a technological race with ourselves.” Nonetheless, he said, the automatic cuts make life difficult for Pentagon budget planners and are “a terrible way to manage defense.”

No … we’re not in a “technological race with ourselves”.   And yes, we have lots of airplanes.   Worn out airplanes two or three decades old that have been to war for a decade.  

Right now the Russians are developing a very good 5th generation fighter, the T-50 (also known as the PAK FA).  The Chinese 5th generation aircraft is the J-20.  We, on the other hand stopped a planned buy of F-22s at 180 out of 2,000.   And now we’re talking about cutting the F-35 (a buy of 2400 and supposedly the fighter to fill the gap left by the curtailment of the F-22 buy) as well?  That’s national defense suicide.

If we cut the JSF, in 10 years we’ll have the same 4th generation aircraft we have now as our front line of defense against the newest generation of fighters that you can bet both Russia and China will export.  Ours will be technologically inferior. 

Yes, we enjoy a technological edge now.  But that is because we’ve always made its maintenance a national security priority.  What Gordon Adams is trying to do is wave away the need to maintain that edge with an absurdly simplistic and utterly incorrect “we’re in a technological race with ourselves”.

What we do now will effect our national security for decades to come.  These fighters are planned to be the front line of defense for about 40 years.   And while an F/A 18 is a hot jet in 2011, it will not be a hot jet in 2031 when refined and technologically superior T-50 and J-20 aircraft will command any airspace in which they fly.

For those who don’t understand what that means, it means no close air support for troops on the ground.  It means an enemy having air superiority over a battlefield (or at least air parity) and making our ground troops vulnerable to air attack for the first time since the Korean War.

It means we’ll have lost the technological race that is required to maintain air dominance and will be hard pressed to catch up anytime soon.

The old term “penny wise and pound foolish” comes to mind.  We’re about to validate that saying.   And the lack of leadership from this administration in outlining priorities concerning national defense and our future is terrifying.   Instead of making national defense a priority, this administration would spend elsewhere.

The technological edge we’ve maintained over the decades is a perishable thing.   There are other countries out there actively trying to steal it from us.

And we have so-called defense analysts like Gordon Adams making stupid – yes there’s that word again – statements like “we’re in a technological race with ourselves”.

We make further cuts, such as those demanded by sequestration, at our peril.  One of the primary functions of government, as outlined in our Constitution, is to provide for the national defense.  It should be one of, if not the primary focus of any national government.  To say we’re playing with fire with deeper cuts than those already contemplated is an understatement.  If you’re comfortable with your grandson or granddaughter flying 40 year old jets in the near future against technologically superior enemies who we are getting ready to abandon the field too in 2011, then you’ll be happy to support cutting defense to the bone now.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Cooking with the Troops … A great NYC Veteran’s Day event

Cooking with the Troops needs your support to carry on its great work with our troops.  Not only does it provide food events for the wounded, but it offers classes to our military members and their families teaching them how to cook healthy and tasty food on a budget in their Home Front program.

They are also have a culinary transition program which aids service members considering a culinary career with their decision.  Other new programs and events are in the planning stages, but they need your help.

Please hit the donate button on the left if you will and give them a hand.  Trust me, they are indeed a worthwhile charity doing wonderful work.

Take a look at their most recent event with NASDAQ in NYC.  It was an outstanding event and obviously enjoyed by all. This and the event on the video you’ve seen are just two examples of what this great organization does.

Thanks for your support.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Lawrence Korb: A million job losses through defense cuts "irrelevant"

Lawrence Korb, who obviously sees defense as the budget cutting device that can save other spending programs, opens his POLITICO piece with this:

Defense is not now — nor was it ever intended to be — a jobs program.

So when an Aerospace Industries Association study — supported, unfortunately, by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) — attempts to warn Congress and the American people that cutting projected defense spending by as much as $1 trillion over the next decade, which might happen if sequestration takes effect, could cost 1 million jobs, the appropriate response is that this is irrelevant.

Actually it’s not irrelevant in the least. Not when you have an administration trying to spend more money on “infrastructure jobs” and touting jobs it has “saved or created”.   Not when you have a president who is claiming the national priority is jobs, jobs, jobs.

It isn’t irrelevant at all.

I agree with his essential point and made it myself yesterday.  Defense isn’t a “jobs program”.  And no one is arguing it is.  That doesn’t make the impact of cuts to this particular sector less “relevant”.  Again, a million jobs in the middle of a deep recession means more trouble not less.  So Korb’s cavalier dismissal of that impact as irrelevant is, well, irrelevant.  It’s a false premise.

This isn’t about the jobs, necessarily (although they are important), it is about the future of our national security.   As the Air Force generals I quoted yesterday emphasized the decisions made today will have a profound effect in 20 to 30 years.  If we cut major defense programs now, we suffer their consequences then.  Sure, we’ll see a million jobs go down the drain now.  But the short sightedness of huge cuts now really doesn’t have anything to do with jobs.  It has to do with a badly degraded national defense in the future.

Korb attempts to use this false premise to sell a trillion dollars in cuts to defense programs and then promises vapor jobs in return:

That $1 trillion can be used to lower our federal debt, which Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the greatest threat to our national security.

Or it could be used to create at least 2 million new jobs — to replace the 600,000 that could be lost.

Note that Korb claims, with no basis for his claim (after supposedly taking apart the argument that a million jobs will be lost with sequestration cuts) and then blithely hand waves “at least” 2 million new jobs into existence by doing what?

Spending that trillion dollars.  That’s worked so well for us in the past 3 years hasn’t it?

And his desire to “create at least 2 million new jobs” to replace those lost tells you what?

That those lost if the cuts to defense are made aren’t irrelevant at all – are they Mr. Korb?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Public opposes further defense cuts which may jeopardize national security

As the Supercommittee’s deadline quickly approaches and their ability to reach an agreement diminishes, a new Battleground poll reveals the public’s strong opposition to more defense cuts.  Already under the gun to make $450 billion in cuts, the failure of the Supercommittee to reach agreement would mean additional across the board cuts in all areas of the Department of Defense.

When asked for their opinion about further cuts, 82% were strongly or somewhat opposed to those cuts (59% strongly opposed).

There is, it appears, a dawning realization that we as a country are again about to put ourselves in serious trouble if we don’t maintain our military edge that has served us so well since WWII.

Recently, in a reply to an inquiry into the effects of the across the board cuts that will be mandated by a Supercommittee failure, Senators McCain and Graham asked Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to detail them.   In his reply he noted some very disturbing results of further cuts.  The mandated cuts would amount to about an additional 20%.  According to Secretary Panetta, that sort of reduction would mean major weapons systems, designed to ensure our national security for decades to come, would have to be cut:

•         Reductions at this level would lead to:

          o         The smallest ground force since 1940.

          o         A fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915.

          o         The smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.

All exceedingly dangerous developments.  All developments which would limit our ability to respond to a national security crisis and certainly effect our ability to deal with more than one.  Reducing our levels to those cited by Panetta would be extraordinarily short-sighted.

For instance, reducing our tactical Air Force to record levels puts one of our major force projection (along with the Navy) means in a position of not being able to fulfill that role.   Today the tactical airframes our pilots fly are decades old and worn out.   They’ve reached the end of their service life.  It is critical that the next generation of fighters continue to be developed and fielded.  In a letter to Rep. Randy Forbes, 7 retired Air Force generals of the Air Force Association outline the risk:

The Air Force now finds itself in a situation where another acquisition deferment will lead to the eventual cessation of key missions. Accordingly, while the recapitalization list is generally considered in terms of systems, it really comes down to a question of what capabilities the nation wants to preserve. Does the United States want to retain the capacity to engage in missions like stemming nuclear proliferation, managing the rise of near-peer competitors, and defending the homeland?

Leaders need to fully consider the ramifications of the decisions they make today as they seek to guide our nation through this difficult period. Just as our legacy fleet has enabled national policy objectives over the past several decades, our future investments will govern the options available to leaders into the 2030s and 2040s. Investing in capable systems will make the difference between success and failure in future wars and between life and death for those who answer the call to serve our nation. When viewed in those terms, failing to adequately invest in the Air Force would be the decision that proves "too expensive" for our nation.

Those two paragraphs outline the criticality of the need for continuing to fund the weapons systems of the future.   We may be able to get away with not doing so right now, but we guarantee that our options will be severely limited and our national security capabilities degraded significantly 20 to 30 years down the road if we do so today.

And there’s another reason to resist the temptation to make further cuts at DoD that is particularly significant at this time.  Professor Stephan Fuller of George Mason University testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the cancellation of weapons systems would have a profound negative effect on both the economy and unemployment such as:

– A loss of 1,006,315 jobs (124,428 direct, 881,887 indirect)

– Raise the unemployment rate by .6% (9% to 9.6%)

– Drop GDP growth by $86.46 billion (25% of the projected growth in 2013)

No one is arguing that DoD is or should be a jobs program.  But it is obvious the impact would be severe not only among DoD prime contractors but even more so downstream.  Ironically, one of the reasons our politicians justified their bailout of the auto industry was downstream job losses in a time of economic turmoil.  That turmoil still exists today.

If the cited poll is any indicator, the public has come to realize the dangerous waters we’re navigating with these possible cuts.   They’re realizing that what guarantees our peace is our strength and our strength is maintained by keeping the technological edge over potential enemies and developing weapons systems to deploy that technology.  Without that ability to guarantee our national security, all the other things we treasure are jeopardized.  Additionally, our military demise will only encourage the bad actors in the world to increase activities which are detrimental to both peace and our national security.

While it is certainly a time to look for all legitimate means and methods to cut government spending, sequestration as demanded by the Supercommittee’s failure to reach agreement isn’t one of them.  Mindless cuts into that which guarantees our safety today and in the future will come back to haunt us if we allow them.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Support our wounded warriors–support Cooking with the Troops

A bleg if you will.  Dale’s hit the program, but I wanted to make a real appeal to support a charity (a registered 501 (c) (3) charity) that is blog-grown.  It came out of the effort of two guys associated with Blackfive, Blake Power (who writes there as Laughing Wolf) and Bob Miller.  

Both wanted to do something for the wounded.  Bob used to go to on weekends and host cookouts for the wounded at Walter Reed.   Just something to lift their spirits and give them a little taste of home.  A chance to show them that we all care about them. 

Blake held an event at Landstuhl hospital in Germany on his way back from an embed in Iraq.  Again the same intention … to give our wounded a lift in spirit as well as mind.  To help them recover and to say, in a very small way, “thank you for your sacrifice”.

They found out each was doing this in different places and decided to join the effort.  From that grew Cooking with the Troops.

I’ve been to one of their events.  In fact the video you’ll see was mostly shot by me – and unfortunately you can tell (by the way, the young man in the serving line with the lime green t-shirt is my grandson Rhane).   The event was held a Brooke Army Medical Center’s Wounded Warrior Support Center.   We roasted 4 whole pigs and served over 300.  It was fabulous and awe inspiring to say the least.

I talked with one of the directors there who was so thankful for the event provided by CwtT.  As he and I were standing there surveying the crowd of wounded enjoying the meal, he said “you know, not one of these young people ever thought that at this point in their life they’d already be trying to develop Plan B”.

It struck me like a ton of bricks.  He’s right.  Their sacrifice meant that previous hopes and dreams were now either not attainable or put on hold indefinitely.  As you might imagine some adjust, adapt and overcome.  Others need more time to cope.  Breaks like what CwtT provides helps that process.

So if you can, please give.  The vid explains it about as well as it can be explained.  If you have a couple of bucks please hit the donate button on the left there.  Trust me – its for a very worthy cause.   If you’re a little short, hey been there done that.   When you have it drop a couple of bucks on them.  We’re running this online fundraiser through Thanksgiving.

And for those of you that do donate – thank you.  It’s a great way to celebrate Veteran’s day.

Happy Veteran’s Day

I wrote this in 2006, and it is as true today as then. Our combat troops are the best the world has ever seen – but without those who support them so well they wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as they are.

—————-

Anyone who doubts all veteran’s are heroes need read no further. But for the vast majority of you who do, I’d like to take a little different slant in my tribute than you might read elsewhere. Most of the time when you read tributes to vets, they’re filled with the stories of those who’ve suffered in combat and we see pictures showing the battle-weary combat vets which pointedly make the argument about the sacrifices our veterans have made and continue to make.

But not all sacrifices are made on the field of battle. While infantry, armor and artillery are the combat arms – the tip of the spear – they, better than anyone, know how important the team that makes up the rest of the spear are to their success on the battlefield.

Those F-16s don’t show up on target at the right time unless that gal flying the boom of a KC10 tanker at 30,000 feet at 2am doesn’t do her job. That sabot round from an M1A1 fired at a threatening T72 isn’t there unless the truck driver hauling ammo day in and day out gets that ammo where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

Veterans are the guys like the cook who gets up every morning at 3:30 am and begins to prepare breakfast for his soldiers. The young man below deck on an aircraft carrier who makes sure the F/A 18 he’s responsible for maintaining is in perfect shape and ready to fly. The nurse who holds a dying soldier’s hand as he takes his last breath, wipes away the tears, straightens her uniform and heads out to do it again.

He’s the youngster in the fuel soaked coveralls who hasn’t slept in 2 days gassing up another Bradley from his fuel tanker. The company clerk who makes sure all of the promotion orders are correct and in on time, or the instructor in basic training who ensures those he trains get his full attention and who puts his all into helping them learn important lessons that will save their lives. He’s the recruiter who’d rather be where the action is, but does what is necessary to make sure he gets the best and brightest available for his branch of service. Or the MP at the gate who shows up every day, does her job to the very best of her ability and never complains.

Most vets have never seen combat in the sense we think of it. But every single solitary one of them has contributed in vital ways to the success of our combat efforts. Without those who support the combat troops, success would impossible. Without the wrench turners, truck drivers, fuel handlers, cooks, clerks and all those like them, the greatest military the world has ever seen is an “also ran.”

It doesn’t matter what a vet did during his or her service, it matters that he or she chose to serve and do whatever vital job they were assigned to the best of their ability. It isn’t about medals, it isn’t about glory, it isn’t about what job they did. It is about the fact that when their country called, they stood up and answered. They are all, every one of them, heroes.

To all the vets out there – Happy Veteran’s Day.

And thank you for your service.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Drone wars–here’s something to think about

As most know, we’ve been very successful using drones to kill our adversaries in many places to include Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.  But the way we employ them has thus far pretty much gone unopposed and, more importantly, has mostly been limited to use by us and our allies.

What if we weren’t the only power with drones (in fact that’s already the case):

At the Zhuhai air show in southeastern China last November, Chinese companies startled some Americans by unveiling 25 different models of remotely controlled aircraft and showing video animation of a missile-armed drone taking out an armored vehicle and attacking a United States aircraft carrier.

Farfetched?  Most would say “yes” right now, but in the future – well who knows?  The point is clear.  We’ve started something that perhaps we will regret at some point:

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Missile Contagion,” who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

In relative terms, drones are cheap and much less dangerous to use for the user.  So if any of the following happen, how do we criticize or condemn?

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

The author has a point. And it’s not just other countries we have to worry about.

However, it would be rather hard to condemn their use given our actions and activities.   While it might be argued that we had at least the tacit approval of the government’s involved, again, we’re making armed incursions into sovereign territory in the name of pursuing our enemies pretty much at will.  And for the most part other countries have been silent about that.

Doesn’t that give them the opportunity to a) ignore any protest we might launch if they do the same thing and b) pretty much dilutes any protest we might have if the same (unlikely) is done to us?

I’m not really commenting here on the efficiency of the tactics involved or the even the morality of the strikes, but more the practical and expected backlash – others will expect to do the same thing we do for the same ostensible reason, and we won’t have a leg to stand on if we protest.

Not that our protests yield much fruit when we do make them, but as Dennis Gormley hints, we’ve opened Pandora’s box here and we’re going to have a heck of a time, if not an impossible time, closing it again. 

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

As Hurricane Irene heads north, the Hurricane Hunters are tracking her

As the east coast prepares for Hurricane Irene’s arrival, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron out of Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS, better known as the “Hurricane Hunters”, is tracking her.

I had the good fortune to ride along with them into Hurricane Alex a couple of years ago.  You can read about it here.

We’d be flying in a WC130J. These “Super Hercules” are equipped with both the power and the equipment to weather the storms they fly through. They contain palletized meteorological data-gathering instruments which are used to gather real-time information as the aircraft penetrate the storm. The information is then sent by burst transmission to the National Hurricane Center where it is compiled and used to both track and predict the storm’s path and intensity.

At about 10am we went wheels up on the mission, 3 full crews serve the flight because of its duration and the intensity of the activity they are subjected too. Each crew has a pilot, copilot, navigator, weather officer and load master. The load master is responsible for dropping the parachute-borne sensor known as the dropsonde. It measures and encodes the weather data down to the ocean surface and transmits it to the weather officer’s station.

As soon as a tropical storm develops and heads toward the US, the Hurricane Hunters are usually tasked with tracking it by the National Hurricane Center.  That means one of their specially equipped C130Js is constantly on station within the storm sending back information to the NHC and giving it the data it needs to accurately track the storm and issue warnings about landfall.  It is estimated that the this information helps narrow the warning area and that precision saves $1,000,000 a mile for every mile that doesn’t have to be evacuated.

The unit is also an all reserve unit.   All the pilots are reservists with civilian jobs such as a commercial pilot.  Flying a FedEx jet into Memphis one day and a C130J Hercules into a hurricane the next.  The 53rd is also the only military weather recon squadron in existence.   You can read more about them here.

Good luck to those in Irene’s path.  Batten down the hatches and follow her progress closely.  And remember, it is the Hurricane Hunters out there flying through her eye and sending back all that data that allow you to know so precisely where she is.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

China launches first aircraft carrier

While all the drama of the debt ceiling negotiations and downgrade were happening, China quietly launched their first aircraft carrier.

So what does that mean in the big scheme of things?  Well IBD lays out the big point as clearly as anyone can:

It is not yet a full-fledged fighting ship. Its mission is to gain experience in carrier operations, particularly for pilots unaccustomed to taking off from and landing on a carrier’s moving deck.

Yet it represents a sea change in potential capability and something that Congress’ bipartisan fiscal supercommittee should ponder as draconian defense cuts remain on the table.

The first is no mean trick.  Learning carrier operations and training carrier pilots takes a while.  But the second point – about the supercommittee and defense cuts – should be lost on no one.  One of the critical points about cuts to spending is the differentiation between good cuts, that is cuts that trim away fat and waste, and bad cuts, cuts that remove muscle and bone.

But back to the carrier and China’s intentions.  First a few facts:

A few weeks ago Chinese Su-27 fighters intercepted a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft that had taken off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of a routine surveillance program of China. And Beijing issued a warning that such surveillance near its shores will not long be tolerated.

China’s capabilities have taken a quantum leap since a Chinese J-8 jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 surveillance jet in April 2001 off Hainan, the island that now has a base for Chinese ballistic missile and attack submarines.

China in recent years has laid claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and has conducted at least nine incursions into Philippines-claimed territory.

China is flexing.   No question in anyone’s mind that it is feeling its oats and will be challenging the status quo in the South China Sea.  It consider that to be China’s “blue soil”.   Add to the facts above that China has been reported to have developed an aircraft carrier killer missile and is in the beginning phases of developing a 5th generation fighter, and you have to begin to wonder if all of that points to benign intent.

Beijing’s goal is to secure the waters from Japan’s home islands, along the Ryukyu chain, through Taiwan and to the Strait of Malacca, encompassing the South China Sea.

Chinese government writings refer to the waters surrounding China as blue soil. Where governments used to draw a line in the sand, Beijing is preparing to draw a line in what other governments view as international waters.

Last week, the state newspaper People’s Daily warned of "dire consequences" if Beijing is challenged in the South China Sea.

The People’s Daily is, of course, an organ of the ruling Communist Party in China and nothing hits its pages unless approved at the highest level.

Aircraft carriers are offensive weapons, not defensive weapons.  Their purpose for existence is to project power.  The carrier China just launched will not be their last or only carrier.   The question is, what does China intend to do with it? 

IBD concludes with the current situation and the future worry:

We will be hard-pressed to meet the emerging Chinese threat when our Navy has only 286 ships (down 45% from 1991, when it had 529) and continues to shrink.

We’ve closed the F-22 Raptor production lines, and even some in the Tea Party are insisting on defense cuts to make up for our spending follies.

Defense is a constitutional imperative, not an optional budget item. We’d better pay attention to that Chinese carrier.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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